tv [untitled] May 5, 2012 4:30pm-5:00pm EDT
all the bushes have been lucky. life has been -- i mean, these libraries and these -- whatever center you call your thing, anyway -- i know it's not a library. but the people all come back. it's just -- we're very lucky, and we know it. and there are people who are hungry and people that are homeless. people that can't read. and, you know, if you know somebody who's lonely, go see them. i mean, there's just a lot of things we can do because -- we can read. we are certainly well fed. we have lots of people we love. i levin love by in-laws. i've got two here. i mean, look at them. we're lucky. >> you know, i think nothing could say better when you ask the question, would people run for bub public office? the experience of both of you and your family and the dignity with which you carry both the offices and the time afterward
suggests that it may be a tough vocation, but it may be one of the best vocations in the world. politics still is and has to be one of the most honorable vocations there are. we have got to reach a time of in this country again when our best people will be able to know what you two experienced. i mean, i know from reading your memoirs and from listening to you today, however difficult there may have been moments in time, everything was overshadowed by making a difference, by the excitement of being there, and the love of the family being together during it. i am so glad to have been able to share this with you. and you are both very much alive. >> thank you so much. >> thank you for having us. >> thank you to everybody. thank you so much. thank you. robert mcnamara served as defense secretary from 1961 to 1968 under presidents kennedy and johnson.
next a discussion of his leadership and the vietnam war. panelists include former defense secretary harold brown and the author of mcnamara, clifford and the burdens of vietnam from 1965 to 1969. this is about an hour and a half. for millions of americans, the veet ma'ietnam war was the g event in their lives whether they served in huge in vietnam or watched debate over the war at home. today it serves as a watershed period in history the same way world war ii did for previous generations. this panel this afternoon is of particular interest to me signs was a hospital corpsman stationed with the 1st marine division for six months in danang and then on the "uss sanctuary," served in tanang harbor for six months there. so it's my pleasure now to turn the program over to john
hoffman, deputy chief historian at office of the secretary of defense, a retired marine colonel who is on active duty as infantry office and field historian for 17 years. in his civilian year, served in the history and museums division as chief of the army center for military history's contemporary studies branch and became deputy chief historian of the office in 2010. please welcome john hoffman. >> thank you for hosting us today as this wonderful venue. if you read the program you saw that the doctor, my boss, was actually supposed to be here speaking, but she was dragooned at the last minute by america battle monuments to go off to paris for a big event and i said i'll jump on that grenade for
you. you don't really have to do that. you can go to the national archives. she said, no, no. i don't want to make you go on those transatlantic red eye flights, so here i am today but i'm happy to be here because it's a great collaboration between writing our slice of history and the national archives which holds the vast majority of all the primary documents we rely so heavily on to write that history, and we actually have a third partner here today in hosting this event and that is the texas tech vietnam center represented by steve who will get introduced a little more fully later. before we get started i wanted to thank a couple of people who put this together, tom and quinn of the national archive, and also dr. john carlo, second from your right, who represents our office. i'll begin with a, in my very brief remarks way quote from robert mcnamara from 1964. i don't object to vietnam being
called mcnamara's war. it's an important war and i am pleased to be identified with it and do whatever i can to win it. obviously it was a very important war but not necessarily for the reasons mack ma nair ra envisioned and he wasn't able to win the war but his reputation has been tied over the years closely to the u.s. failure in that conflict. we're here today, of course, to talk about and recognize the recent publication of ed drea's book, part of the ongone secretary of defense historical series put out by our office that focuses on the role of the secretaries and the office of the secretary of defense in developing and executing national defense policy. it's of course, equal to mcnamara in 1961 to 1965. we have the next four books in the series under way and various stages of progress and they'll take us through caspar
weinberger in the early '80s. standing the test of time that will serve hopefully as useful information for current policymakers and finally inform the american public. we believe that ed's book is a great addition to this series and although its focus is vietnam, he covers a lot of other important topics from the dominican crisis in 1965 to the six-day war in the middle east in 1967 to the impact of vietnam on u.s. national defense posture. we hope we've put together a program that's equal to this topic. john is going to serve as the moderator. he is a historian who worked for 17 years for the u.s. army center of military history writing their volumes on 1965 in 1966 in vietnam. he spent another decade in hard labor at the foreign relations series of the united states at the state department doing their two books on the end of the
vietnam war. the semiretired now and works part-time for us doing special projects like this. two of our presenters, of course, are dr. ed dre, ta and final member of our panel and first speaker is former secretary of defense harold brown. at the age of 21 he earned a ph.d. in physics from columbia university, served as a research scientist and then a senior science and research manager for the government. in 1965 he became secretary of the air force where he worked closely with mcnamara leaving government in 1969, he returned in 1977 as president jimmy carter's secretary of defense. since 1981 he has been deeply involved in researching, speaking and writing on national security policy. we're grateful to have him leading off our panel today and look forward to hearing his personal perspectives of secretary mcnamara's ten you're.
tenure. >> thank you very much. it's good to be with you this afternoon. i look forward to reading the current volume in the history of the office of the secretary of defense series. it may prepare me for what the third and the future set says about me if i live long enough to read that. when mcnamara left office in january of 1969, the members of his staff and the service secretaries presented him with a
large globe and during the presentati presentation, the citation that we had prepared said, to the outstanding public servant of our time, and i think that correctly describes the first four years of bob mcnamara's service as secretary of defense. the next three were a tragedy. you might say a shakespearean tragedy. a tragedy for him as well as for president johnson and most of all, most important, for the country. in the first four years, bob
mcnamara revolutionized the department of defense, and by setting up a process for planning, programming, budgeting, as it was then called, he produced examples in other parts of the government that have since tried with varying degrees of success to emulate, to rationalize the processes of governing and of budgeting. like all such attempts, they are bounded by the limitations of human nature in general, and of government in particular. but then the department of defense, at least, they had persisted, and i think, made it much more efficient and effe
effective than it otherwise would be. that -- that approach was possible because of the centralization of power in the office of the secretary of defense that president eisenhower had pushed so hard for and succeeded in getting through in the defense reorganization act of 1958, but it took someone like mcnamara and some of the people he brought in with him to turn that into an effective, operating system. the second term, three years, 1965 and '67 -- '66-67, the vietnam years, are a lesson in
the limits of quantitative thinking. especially when the underlying situation is unwinnable. the end of the vietnam war is viewed in different ways by different people. my friends henry kissinger and jim schlesinger say that the war was actually won, but the congress by cutting off aid to the south vietnamese doomed what had been a success, failure. sort of a [ speaking in foreign language ] approach. that was the term, "stabbed in the back" that germans used between the two wars to describe what had happened to german military in world war i. but at the same time, henry
kissinger's on record as having said at one point in the process, let's at least have a decent interval before they collapse. so vietnam war in retrospect was unwinnable because of the nature of vietnamese society and of the south vietnamese government. my own introduction to bob mcnamara happened in february of 1961. i had known the deputy secretary just briefly, because we'd been on a board together, and he offered me the job when i first walked into his office, and i said, gee, i'm not really ready for that right now. and he said, well, you have to
take things when they're offered, or maybe they might never come back to you again. then i took that lesson. at the beginning, i think he saw me as a scientist or engineer, and looked instead to his systems analysis group with whom he felt an empathy, because he'd been an operations analyst during world war ii. but as a consequence of considerations early on of the zoo system and the whole issue of mutual deterrence, he turned to the office that i ran as part of the office of the secretary of defense, the office of the director of defense research and engineering, to play a bigger role in programmed decisions.
early on mcnamara was still learning about issues of grand strategy. for example, i guess early in 1961 he had espoused the idea of damage limitation. that is nato speech in athens, that somehow you could have a nuclear war and damage limit -- limited damage on both sides. he learned fairly quickly, however, that once you went down that road two things would happen. first of all, there was no limit to the amount of money that you would spend in trying to limit the damage, and, second, it wouldn't work. the advantage would not, in fact, be limited. and so he made a later speech at ann arbor explaining that we, instead, should move mutual
assured destruction as a way of deterring the other side and, of course, we would be deterred as well from engaging in a nuclear war. but had the unfortunate acronym m.a.d. but proved to be sane instead. bob was highly organized. he used to look at written material. he preferred written material to canned briefings, and he would write on them his barely legible lefthanded scrawl, but those of us who worked with him gradually became able to decipher those and they always made a lot of sense. in fact, so much so that i subsequently myself adopted that same approach of inside and outside the defense department of taking written material, scrawling comments on it and sending it back.
i think bob had planned to stay only four years, and that reinforced his natural tendency to be -- to limit socialization. he made a mistake, i think, and he admitted it to me afterwards, by not speaking at any of the military academy graduation commissioning ceremonies, and he said, part of the reason was, he'd only planned to stay for four years, and he felt it was not worth that time, if he'd known he would have stayed longer, it would have improved his relationships with some of the uniformed military. he would have behaved differently. i saw him at least weekly in a formal way through my own service as director of defense
research and engineering and air force secretary, and he came through as a decisive executive at work, but on social occasions, he was actually quite different. i remember an evening in which -- and he was very unassuming. not the hard, driving automobile executive that he had been at ford or displayed on the job at the defense department. i remember an evening when he took us to the -- he took -- he and marge, his wife, took me and my wife to the arena theater. and he drove his own car. and i can't imagine that happening today. nome because people are different. because the times and circumstances are very different. in private he was sometimes
emotional. that didn't spill out publicly until well into the vietnam war. most famously, of course, at the ceremony at the white house in january of 1968 when president johnson awarded him a medal, and he -- macnamara in trying to respond broke down and was not able to continue speaking. as i said, he was -- and, of course, after he left office, that emotional side of him became much more publicly known, and it's appeared in the movie that was made "fog of war" again
and again he -- mcnamara displays strong emotions. they were always there, but they were hidden. presidents he served. in fact, you could tell when he was espousing a position that had been imposed upon him by the president, which occasionally happened, you could tell, because he would be sitting at the table at which the armed forces policy council would meet every monday. and when he was explaining that position, which you could tell by what he did that he didn't -- that had not been his original
position. his voice -- he would speak louder and he would lean forward and pull his socks up. and that was a sign that that was not his choice, but he was loyal to it. that loyalty also appeared in the way he described the budgeting process. what he said was that there was no set limit on the budget. he had an agreement with the president that the strategy and the program would be set, and the budget would be whatever that cost at the most efficient level. of course, when you say at the most efficient level, that's a big loophole. and increasingly, it became clear that budgetary restrictions did exist. especially after vietnam heated
up and drew lots -- and drew immense costs, immense funding away from the rest of the program. mcnamara was good at cultivating people. how successful, of course, depends on what you think of those who he cultivated. he certainly groomed me and others for higher office later on. cy vance, who started as general counsel, became successively army secretary, deputy defense secretary, and later secretary of defense. paul minsa went through a later process, and so did i. i'd like to say a few things,
just briefly about vietnam, which those who come after me will be addressing more directly. bob became skeptical of the vietnam war well before he stopped saying how great it was going. one thing that i remember is from early on, he was very dubious about reports from the field, even though he insisted on quantifying them and encouraged the systems analysis people to quantify what in the end was not really quantifiable. he turned to the cia, for example, for separate inputs into what the situation was, and increasingly he believed those. he tried to find other ways to limit the war, and to make it more successful.
one notable example was the so-called mcnamara line, which was an attempt to set up sensors along what became known as the ho chi minh trail, to pinpoint where the north vietnamese infiltrators and materiel was coming from, and he set up a position to do that. and in the end it didn't work. i've since speculated that with the capabilities that we now have, but did not then have, how much more capable -- how much better that would have worked. well, there are two problems,
even now. one is that jungles aren't as easily penetrable as sensors as deserts are, and the other is that the big problem was not only the viet cong in the south and the infiltration and in the end invasion by the north vietnamese, it was the weakness and corruption of the south vietnamese government. as the vietnam war went on, mcnamara had less and less time for other matters. so the decisions were often passed down to the deputy secretary of defense. and they didn't have quite the same quality. my conclusion from all of this is that four years is long enough. there's an old saying that, for a secretary of defense, there's
an old saying that in washington, friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. and when they accumulate enough, your effectiveness goes down. moreover, as time goes by, you come to think that you've seen it all, and you mistake your familiarity with wisdom. it's hard to rethink things. it's hard to clean up your own mess. and i think bob mcnamara was a very successful, almost unprecedentedly successful secretary of defense in his four years, and the last three were a tragedy. i have very little to say about clark clifford. he was only secretary for a year. and he devoted himself almost entirely to vietnam. and left the running of the department to paul minsa, who was then deputy secretary of
defense. clark was, i think, a very able advocate and he had all the talents of an actor, both in appearance and his ability at presentation. and he did help lyndon johnson start to get out of the war. thank you. [ applause ] >> thank you, dr. brown, secretary brown. we're contextualizing robert mcnamara in the defense department and the vietnam war. this sets down a nice base line for our next two speakers.
i will introduce those speakers, george herring and ed drea. this is an easy task for me, because they are two of the ablist practitioners of the historical craft today. first george. george herring has a virginia ph.d. he taught almost four decades at the university of kentucky. there he mentored many ph.d. thesis, and his students teach throughout the land teaching history of the vietnam war. george also served as editor of the best -- probably the best journal doing diplomatic history, called diplomatic history. he also served as president of the society for historians of american foreign relations. but he made his greatest contribution, at least in my judgment, as a scholar. among his books are "america's longest war," which in four
editions has sold well over half a million copies. and has been the basic text which so many undergraduates, thousands of undergraduates in our country have formed their view of the vietnam war. his managerial study of the american history foreign relations keeps him in the top rank of our scholars. his book entitled "lbj in vietnam: a different kind of war," creates an almost perfect perch from which george can review ed drea's book. and that's what he's going to do for us now. george? [ applause ] >> thank you very much, john, for that kind introduction.